5 things to watch in Week 4 of high school football

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Thursday, September 19, 2019 | 6:25 PM


Clairton will try to do something that Mohawk, Rochester, Bishop Canevin and California couldn’t.

The Bears will attempt to score against Laurel’s so-far perfect defense. The Spartans have shut out their first four opponents this season by a combined score of 135-0.

In this era of high-scoring offenses, a dominant defense stands out more than ever.

Entering Week 4, there are eight WPIAL teams allowing a touchdown or less per game, but Laurel is the only one that hasn’t allowed a single point. The team has celebrated 21-0, 42-0, 57-0 and 15-0 victories.

Laurel and Southern Columbia are the only teams in the state that haven’t allowed a point.

“We don’t get caught up in the unscored-upon stuff,” Laurel coach Brian Cooper said. “It’s a nice little extra incentive, but I keep telling them a lot of things can happen. That can’t be our main focus.”

Cooper speaks from experience. He was defensive coordinator at Wilmington in 1996 when the Greyhounds shut out their first eight opponents. In Week 9, Wilmington won again, but Sharon broke that shutout streak.

“I just remember how much of a distraction people tried to make it,” Cooper said. “There’s a lot of luck involved in keeping a team out (of the end zone). The reality is that they’re likely going to score.”

More than 70 years have passed since a WPIAL team finished a season undefeated and unscored upon. The last defense to do so was WPIAL champion Apsinwall in 1943.

Laurel’s string of zeroes faces a serious test at 7 p.m. Friday when second-ranked Laurel (4-0) visits third-ranked Clairton (2-2) for a Class A nonconference game at Neil C. Brown Stadium.

Clairton, averaging 30 points, scored 58 last week.

“They’re solid across the board; you don’t see a lot of weaknesses,” Clairton coach Wayne Wade said. “I still say they were a playoff-caliber team last year, with all the guys back this year.”

But obviously Clairton plans to break the shutout streak.

“We go into every game assuming not to be shut out,” Wade said. “I can say that. We’ll see how they respond if they’re scored on.”

Laurel allowed 75 points in its first four games last season and lost two of those four before also losing to Clairton, 25-12.

“I knew we’d be a lot improved from last year,” Cooper said. “The question was the secondary, and I think this week will be a different test with the speed of Clairton.”

Behind Laurel, the next stingiest defenses are North Allegheny (4.0 ppg), Jeannette (4.5), Thomas Jefferson (5.8), Shady Side Academy (6.0), Burgettstown (6.7), Knoch (6.8) and Peters Township (7.0).

History not on WPIAL’s side

Ohio football powerhouse Massillon Washington hasn’t lost to a WPIAL team since 1937, but the Tigers haven’t played many in the past 80 years. Penn-Trafford visits Massillon’s 16,600-seat Paul Brown Tiger Stadium on Friday, and Gateway visits Oct. 11.

The only current WPIAL school to defeat the Tigers was New Castle, 7-0, when Paul Brown was Massillon’s coach.

Mt. Lebanon lost at Massillon, 54-20, in 2001. Before that, Massillon hadn’t faced a WPIAL opponent since the 1930s, according to MassillonTigers.com records. McKeesport lost to Massillon in 1938. Along with its 1937 victory, New Castle lost in 1936, ’38 and ’39.

Massillon entered this season ranked fifth in the nation with 885 all-time victories. The team has 24 state titles.

Coaching clash in 6A

When West Allegheny hired coach Bob Palko in 1995, his first offensive coordinator was Art Walker. Palko won eight WPIAL titles (the first with Walker), and Walker later won five combined at Central Catholic and North Allegheny.

More than two decades later, their teams meet Friday night when No. 4 Mt. Lebanon (3-1, 3-0) visits No. 2 North Allegheny (4-0, 3-0) in Class 6A. It’s the first time the coaches will meet head-to-head in a meaningful game.

Their teams played last season in a nonconference matchup when Palko was still at West A.

North/South matchup

Coaches don’t typically enjoy midseason nonconference games, but Peters Township (4-0) and North Hills (4-0) have an interesting one Friday. Both are undefeated and first in separate conferences.

Clear skies at night

Many of these Week 4 matchups didn’t reach the fourth quarter a year ago. Some were delayed, ended early or postponed when a strong line of thunderstorms ran through Western Pennsylvania.

That shouldn’t be a problem Friday. Forecasts call for dry weather with temperature in the mid-70s at kickoff.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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